A petit mal seizure is the term given to a staring spell. It is most commonly called an absence seizure. It is a brief (usually less than 15 seconds) disturbance of brain function due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
Seizure - petit mal; Absence seizure; Seizure - absence
Petit mal seizures occur most often in people under age 20, usually in children ages 6 to 12.
They may occur with other types of seizures, such as generalized tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal seizures), twitches or jerks (myoclonus), or sudden loss of muscle strength (atonic seizures).
Most petit mal seizures last only a few seconds. They often involve staring episodes or absence spells. The episodes may:
Unexplained difficulties in school and learning difficulties may be the first sign of petit mal seizures.
During the seizure, the person may:
The person usually does not fall during the seizure.
Immediately after the seizure, the person is usually:
Specific symptoms of typical petit mal seizures may include:
Atypical petit mal seizures begin slower and last longer. Symptoms are similar but muscle activity changes may be more noticeable.
For information on diagnosis and treatment, see:
Abou-Khalil BW, Gallagher MJ, Macdonald RL. Epilepsies. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC. Bradley’s Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 67.